Women are eight times more likely to develop autoimmune thyroiditis, also known as Hashimoto’s, than men. The diagnosis is usually made in their thirties or forties. So, what’s in the name? Autoimmunity means that your immune system begins to attack your body’s own tissues because it is losing its ability to distinguish between self and non-self. Thyroiditis is an inflammatory condition of the thyroid, a butterfly-shaped gland located in the front of your neck. In plain English, autoimmune thyroiditis means your body is destroying your own thyroid gland.

Thyroid conditions are usually categorized as either hyper, meaning the thyroid is overproducing, or hypo, meaning underproducing thyroid hormones that your body’s tissues need for optimal functioning. These hormones are involved in many different processes and help regulate functions like metabolism, mentation, and reproduction. Our hormones always work in concert with one another, like a well-rehearsed orchestra. Thyroid hormone is a team player.

Getting diagnosed

If you have been diagnosed with Hashimoto’s, you already know something useful that many undiagnosed women do not. If you have developed a range of symptoms, from feeling cold, needing much more sleep, being depressed to constipation and weight gain, or difficulty falling pregnant—in fact, there are over 60 different signs and symptoms associated with hypothyroidism—it is important that your primary care physician take a closer look or refer you to an endocrinologist, a physician specializing in the health of the hormone system.

Diagnosing a thyroid condition is based on a combination of clinical observations and laboratory work. For starters, it’s important to thoroughly hear out what you experience. No change in your wellbeing is too trivial to be noted. An ultrasound of your thyroid can give your physician information about physical changes in your thyroid tissue, and a comprehensive thyroid panel can identify imbalances in your thyroid-related hormone production and possible indicators of autoimmunity. It is not enough to test thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) and free T4 to determine if you have a thyroid condition. Also, the TSH value is often a high “normal” when you, in fact, already have problems with your thyroid. If your concerns are brushed off, get a second opinion.

Medical treatment

Conventional medicine is fairly limited in its treatment approach to Hashimoto’s. You usually get a prescription for levothyroxine (e.g. Syntroid), a synthetic version of your body’s own thyroxine (T4). I won’t bore you with the details of production and conversion of thyroid hormones, just know that it’s really fascinating and much more complex than you might think. The medication can be a godsent for many patients, and the biggest challenge initially may be finding the right dosage. It takes time and patience because you don’t want to overshoot the target.

Unfortunately, supplementing synthetic thyroid hormone isn’t doing much to address the root causes of your condition but it can play a very helpful role in your healing by protecting the thyroid from overworking and your whole body from suffering due to insufficient thyroid hormone production.

Healing thyroid dysfunction requires an all-hands-on-deck approach. If you find yourself in this situation, you want to cast your net a little wider than just the conventional prescription drug. Some women benefit from natural desiccated thyroid or compounded combinations of T4 and T3, the more active form of thyroid hormone.

A holistic approach

In my work with women in their thirties, forties and fifties, I use all the tools I have available as a doctor of Chinese medicine and naturopathic practitioner. In the beginning, I help my patients gain a better understanding of lifestyle choices and their effect on the thyroid. Even past trauma, stress and exposure to toxins in your environment can have a profoundly negative effect. To create room for healing, we initially help your body letting go of things no longer needed by supporting liver function and elimination through the gut and skin. We address your stress response by implementing strategies to balance your stress hormones, and we focus on restoring gut health so that inflammation in your body subsides, your immune system calms down, and your thyroid can heal.

The foundation for this work is the intelligent use of an anti-inflammatory diet, suitable nutritional supplements, and botanical therapy with customized herbal prescriptions. You should also make changes in your day-to-day life so that you get enough rest and can recharge your batteries. Practicing yoga or qigong, taking walks, meditating, or generally just doing less, can all be very effective. I also highly recommend acupuncture because it can help you balance your hormone and nervous systems, and restore energetic balance to body and mind.

Helping women with Hashimoto’s recover their mojo is a worthwhile effort. I often notice that even after some initial changes, my patients are already beginning to feel better. It takes time and commitment to restore thyroid health but getting started is the most important step.

© 2021 Christiane Siebert